“Quoth The Raven” – Black Bird (manga) – 4/10 Peeps

Mangaka: Kanoko Sakurakoji

Genre: Romance/Drama/Supernatural/Shoujo

Review Status: Incomplete (4 Volumes/19 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by Shoujo Beat.

Art: It’s standard. I liked the judicious use of toner, backgrounds, and really thought the tengu designs were interesting. But the art really doesn’t stand out in any way.

Summary: There is a world of myth and magic that intersects ours, and only a special few can see it. Misao Harada is one such person, and she wants nothing to do with magical realms. She just wants to have a normal high school life and maybe get a boyfriend. All that changes one day when Misao is attacked by a demon. Her childhood friend Kyo suddenly returns to save her and tend her cuts – with his tongue! It turns out Misao is the bride of prophecy, whose blood gives power to the demon clan who claims her. But most demons want to keep her power for themselves – by eating her! Now Misao is just trying to stay alive…and decide if she likes it when Kyo licks her wounds. (back cover of 1st volume)

Review: This is one of the Shojo Beat titles I hear thrown around a bit, so when the opportunity to check it out from the library came up, I took it with few expectations about what it was. I figured it might be a slightly smuttier version of Kieli, one of my favorite supernatural romances. I was a little off; Sure, this girl might be able to see spirits, but that’s about it!

Misao is just an average teen girl who happens to see spirits, and when she’s attacked one day, she’s rescued by a super-handsome guy that is deeply in love with her and wants to get into her pants.

Still with me?

So far, these four volumes have centered around how she’s the DESTINED ONE and sex. Not necessarily in that order, though, and not necessarily separately. The big deal is that if she has sex, then the clan of whomever manages to have bedded her will prosper. This is a big draw for Kyo (though apparently there’s some childhood friendship there that’s blossomed into love as well, but there’s a big mystery surrounding this). It’s also a big draw for a few other clans, so they’re completely willing to fight over her. Honestly, how it’s carried out is a major teen girl fantasy, and not unlike…I hate to say this… Twilight. It’s so full of near-sex and sexual tension it’s hard to believe they managed to squeeze anything else in.

Suffice it to say that there isn’t that much else here. Misao and Kyo are as standard and uninteresting as possible, and while I’m intrigued by some of the side characters (the brothers seem like awesome people and I’d love to have more of them!) we’re only treated to brief glimpses of their personalities, making them one-note characters. The story also assumes that knowing absolutely nothing about them, we’re supposed to adore them and understand they’re Misao’s New Best Friends. Even the bad guys are completely boring! This is as average as average can be, and definitely uses it to its full advantage.

Overall,  it’s a teenage girl’s ultimate romance story, mixed the angst of having sex for the first time with being the sexual fantasy of a really hot guy and adding some supernatural drama. I got over this stuff long ago. There’s so much sexual angst that it’s hard to see the character development. I can’t even mention the plot development because it’s all about the sex.

Recommended: 18+. It’s not hentai, but it comes darned close quite a few times. There are a number of highly sexualized scenes, where they are kissing half-naked and whatnot, but I suspect that when it gets to it the actual scene will be mostly stylized editing. I’d probably label it ‘softcore porn’.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime (manga)

Bride of the Water God (manhwa)

Love Monster (manga)

“Easy As Pie” – Antique Bakery (anime) – 7/10 Peeps

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Shoujo/Shounen-ai(?)/Slice-of-Life

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by Nozomi.

Art/Animation: I can’t say much for the OP, because it’s carboard cut-outs against a dollhouse background, but the actual series looks quite good. It’s a more airy/sketchy look to it, rather along the lines of Honey and Clover, and in light pastels, though the backgrounds are often CG and not quite as nice-looking as the characters. You do get used to it, but it is disconcerting at first. The animation is very good. Since it’s a slice-of-life series, the budget is used to make things look nice, and it works.

Summary: A high school crush, a world-class pastry chef, a former middle-weight boxing champion… and a whole lot of cake!
Ono has come a long way since the agonizing day in high school when he confessed his love to handsome Tachibana. Now, some 14 years later Ono, a world-class pastry chef and gay playboy has it all. No man can resist Ono’s charms (or his cooking skills!) but he has just found a new position under a man named Tachibana. Can this be the only man who resisted his charms, and if so, will the man who once snubbed the “magically gay” Ono get his just deserts? And how in the heck did a former middleweight boxing champion wind up as Ono’s cake boy? (DigitalMangaPublishing)

Review: This has the cutest opening I’ve seen in a while. No, seriously, check it out!

It’s sweet and adorable (instead of looking cheap, like I had worried), and serves as a fantastic intro into a series that has the iffiest premise I’ve ever come across: A man who was kidnapped and forced to eat cake as a child ends up opening a bakery to find the man. It’s terribly strange, and if this wasn’t filled with handsome men baking delicious things, I might have turned this off right then and there. Thankfully, this wasn’t as ridiculous as it seemed to be, even though there are a number of moments that are… less than realistic.

This is mainly a character-driven story, and gives the impression that it’s shounen-ai off the first episode when Keiichiro ends up asking Yusuke whether he would work for him. Yusuke comes right out and says that Keiichiro used to bully him because he was gay and that he was madly in love with Keiichiro. Keiichiro has absolutely no interest in him however, but Yusuke gives into the pleas because it gives him a chance to show off his baking skills. And because he’s such a player that he can’t work anywhere else. But the staff isn’t complete yet! Chikage, a bodyguard that’s a touch slow, ends up becoming a waiter  (and love interest of Yusuke, but that’s minor). And the cast is rounded out by Eiji, a young man that desperately wants to make sweets and ends up becoming Yusuke’s apprentice.

The majority of this show is really the everyday happenings around the bakery, from developing a new cake, to being featured on televisiton, to sending Eiji away to learn more. And these things really are a lot of fun to see. The parts where it stumbles are on Yusuke’s personal life, because it’s so absolutely full of drama that it’s ridiculous. I suppose there’s something to be said about depicting how terrible abusive relationships are, but it’s still very out of place with the rest of the show. I’m also not fond of the kidnapper sotryline. It really highlights how silly the premise is overall. But… there are parts of it that really made my day, like tracking down people meant delivering cakes in ridiculous costumes as well as being asked to do truly difficult pastries. So while it was far from perfect, at least the kidnapper arc had a number of redeeming things.

For 11 episodes, though, it was too much time wasted and a little too much drama for what really should mostly have been an upbeat show.

Overall, it was fun and a decent series. Rate higher if you’re really fond of drama involving handsome men.

Recommended: 18+. Implied sex between two men, along with some partial nudity. There’s a series of murders of little boys happening (we never see them die, but it’s impied offscreen). Someone gets stabbed, and you do see some blood.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Ristorante Paradiso (anime)

Bartender (anime or manga)

Sommelière (manga)

“Simply Touching” – The Magic Touch (manga) – 6/10

Mangaka: Izumi Tsubaki

Genre: Romance/Comedy/Shoujo/School

Review Status: Incomplete (4 Volumes/9 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed by Shoujo Beat Manga.

Art: Typical shoujo art. It could be a template for other shoujo.

Summary: The star of her high school’s Massage Research Society club, Chiaki Togu is otherwise a normal, quiet girl until she falls in love at first sight with a gorgeous back – a back that happens to belong to Yosuke, the hottest guy at her school! Unfortunately, Chiaki’s attraction to Yosuke is thwarted by her own insecurity and the scheming of other girls – especially her twin sister Sayaka! Although Yosuke seems to be out of Chiaki’s league, she would do anything to give him a massage. The two eventually strike up a deal in which she will be allowed to touch his back…if she can make him fall in love with her! (back cover of 1st volume).

Review: This manga has by far and large the most unique premise I’ve come across in manga; A romance that happens because of  massage. And I don’t mean any massage parlor, either – it’s a school club dedicated to the art, and a girl who’s obsessed with it because it’s the only skill she has. Chiaki wants nothing more than to be a great masseuse, so that attracts her to the most irritated, painful back she’s ever seen.

It’s amazing how such a unique and interesting plot can fall so hard into all the tropes of shoujo ever. Chiaki is very much a typical heroine, torn over her feelings towards Yosuke and determined to do her best no matter what. The issue is that she’s torn over her feelings – she clearly was attracted to the prospect of massaging him from the beginning, and we the readers are explicitly shown that. So why all the drama about whether she had actually fallen in love with the person it belonged to first? It simply didn’t happen. Yosuke is a little different from the typical love interest by being angry and irritable. He’s not into other girls. Or, heck, other people. The issue comes in when he’s attracted to Chiaki for her charm…which is cheesy to begin with.

A lot more could have been done with that if they hadn’t decided to ignore the family dynamics and relationships of these two. The first volume introduces Chiaki’s twin sister who’s been busy making Chiaki’s life miserable, ruining her good name, and it’s resolved with barely any issue in that same volume. That same volume also brings up an interesting relationship dynamic between Yosuke and his brother, and that brother with Chiaki’s sister. All the mistaken identity issues just wrapped up for the sake of introducing club activities! Bah.

It wasn’t a total loss, though. I thought the club activities and trickery were pretty funny – I’ve never seen so much involvement from a club president in a manga before, and he’s crazy enough to make me forgive a lot in this series. The only goal is to learn massage and if that means entering an underground massage tournament, then so be it! Summer parties? Massage! Sleepovers? Massage! There is no rest for these kids. (wat) I’m also rather fond of the opponents introduced here. It provides an interesting mash-up of quirks and personalities, and I really enjoyed how it worked with that.

Overall, it’s cute, but a fairly typical shoujo romance. If you have a particular interest in massage then it might be a little more entertaining, but other than that nothing special.

Recommended: 12+. There is some innuendo in some later volumes, especially after Chiaki mistakes a comment about her being ‘small’ as about her breasts. This is discussed.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Kitchen Princess (manga)

“Crime And Genius Detectives” – Young Miss Holmes (manga) – 8/10 Desks

Mangaka: Kaoru Shintani

Genre: Mystery/Historical/Shoujo

Review Status: Incomplete (2 Volumes/7 volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this series is licensed in the US.

Art: The character designs look like a throwback to the 90’s, but with less detail in the backgrounds and simpler line art. I’m fond of how the girls look, but the men? They just look strange and emaciated. It has a strange effect on the overall appearance. Overall I’m okay with it, but it could be better.

Summary: Christie Holmes is a prodigy. At ten years old, she’s as familiar with the sciences and classics as any older student at Cambridge or Oxford. And her fascility with logic is reminiscent of her uncle., the eminent Sherlock Holmes himself. So, what’s a brilliant yhoung girl to do when her parents are away in India, leaving her behind in the care of maids and servants? Why, solve mysteries, of course. Along with her giant hound Nelson, Christie’s implacable curiosity leads her from one dangerous adventure to another, often joining forces with her Uncle Sherlock and Doctor Watson on their famed investigations. Christie may look pint-sized, bet her clever mind is never to be underestimated! (back cover of first volume)

Review: Young Miss Holmes is a very interesting title. It’s one of the critic’s darlings, a new manga that is just as much fanfiction as it is a geniune story in it’s own right. Why fanfiction? Well, this takes a character that never existed (several, really, when accounting for the fact that to make Christie the niece of Sherlock, the give Sherlock a younger sister) and inserts her into a well-established story, including inserting her into a few of Holmes’ actual cases! This might tick off original fans of the Holmes series, but if you can handle a little bit of creative license then this is a decently entertaining series.

I really don’t think the series hit its stride until the third case she was on. The first had virtually no detective work on Christie’s part; She was really only in the story for the ride as her uncle spouted off what happened and how they were going to recover the jewel. One of my peeves about manga is that I much prefer the show-don’t-tell approach for stories since this is a visual medium. If I want to read a book, I’ll read a book. It’s also the least exciting or interesting mystery of them all, with Christie merely sitting in a chair to fool the criminal. It just wasn’t a good start at all.

The second case was better than that – putting her into the infamous Redheaded League case – and the third was even better than that! Not only did we start getting a solid look into Christie’s life, but the case is far more interesting and better set-up. It felt far more like aHolmes story, with an actual investigation and look at the facts and scene of the crime. And the revelation is very similar to how the Homes stories are! I was very impressed with the ingeniuty the mangaka showed with it. Not only that, but it really started to showcase Christie as her own character and not just a side commentator. or a brat shoehorned in just for the heck of it. She’s looking for approval from an uncle that she admires more than anyone else in the world, and is dealing with a case of absentee parentism, which wasn’t that unusual back in the day (wow, an actual historical reason to get the parents out of the picture instead of just having them gone! So great!). In their place is a bevy of servants that need to reign in a precocious girl that could outsmart them all in a heartbeat. One woman who’s sent in as her tutor has to find ingenius ways of teaching her social niceties while her charge dives headfirst into soling mysteries. I also love the two maidservants that are Christie’s main… well, lackeys, for lack fo a better word. One is a down-home girl that can weild a whip but is less than refined, while the other is a fairly religious and proper maidservant… that isn’t afriad to whip out a gun if Christie is in any danger. They provide a fairly standard but amusing duo and comedic relief to the series.

As fun as the story got in the third case, the standards fell just a little more in the 4th. Unfortunately, this was a crossover with the manga Dance in the Vampire Bund, which means that this mystery had a geniunely supernatural element to it which I wasn’t ecstatic about. I thought the mystery and characters involved were just fascinating – seeing Christie inadvertantly make a friend was so adorable! – but since this is supposed to be Sherlock Holmes, I could have done without this extra element to attract those of the other series. Knowing the content of the other series, I also don’t feel compelled to read it, either. Whatever my feelings on this are, though, it was still a far sight better than the initial two chapters, so I feel that this will continue to be a good read in later volumes.

Overall, it seems to be off to a rocky start, but since it’s getting better and better as the story goes on I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Recommended: 10+. If you think your kid can handle Muder, She Wrote, then they can handle the content in here. There are two scenes of dead bodies: you don’t get close-ups on them or the wounds. you just see enough blood to show that they’re dead.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Sherlock Hound (anime)

“A Different Type Of Princess” – Kitchen Princess (manga) – 7/10 Pencils

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.  ~Voltaire

Mangaka: Natsume Ando, Miyuki Kobayashi

Genre: Shoujo/Romance/Drama/Comedy/School

Review Status: Complete (10 Volumes/10 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by Del Ray

Art: Pretty typical shoujo, but it’s not half-bad on the food- everything looks absolutely scrumtious!

Summary: Najika is a great cook and likes to make meals for the people she loves. But something is missing from her life. When she was a child, she met a boy who touched her heart–and now Najika is determined to find him. The only clue she has is a silver spoon that leads her to the prestigious Seika Academy. Attending Seika will be a challenge. Every kid at the school has a special talent, and the girls in Najika’s class think she doesn’t deserve to be there. But Sora and Daichi, two popular brothers who barely speak to each other, recognize Najika’s cooking for what it is–magical. Is either boy Najika’s mysterious prince? (Source: Amazon)

Review: Kitchen Princess plays itself off as a shoujo that attempts to break ut of the mold a number of times. I have to say, overall I was pretty impressed with how it didn’t follow the traditional formula in a number of places, from the girl coming into the story as a fantastic cook already. The only thing she needs to work on is refining her skills a bit- a far cry from most heroines being absolute klutzes and needing to work hard to get a foot in the door for what they want to do! Entering the academy, Najika discovers two bys that could be her Flan Prince, and so the romance begins, and immediately begins to deviate from the predictable formula of her falling in love with the bad boy of the two. Yes, I had it called from the beginning, and I was heartily surprised at how the plot drove Najika to Sora, the sweet, responsible brother that takes charge of things and supports her in everything she does.

And boy, does she have her work cut out for her; Everyone has it in to shut her down and kick her out for not playing by the rules and winning the prestigous competitions they expected her to! Even if she’s blessed with perfect taste, able to tell everything exactly about what went into a dish and how it was cooked, that doesn’t mean that she’s going to have it easy when dealing wtih the exacting standards of judges or the director of the school when he sees her disappointing results and her rebellion against school rules. He’s willing to use everything at his disposal to get her to step down, usually by petty and semi-cartoon-villanous means. Hiring another student to take her down is an interesting idea, even if it backfires completely. It was the threat he makes towards her home and the people in it that caught my attention – extortion of the worst means, and more serious than most threats.

Most of this comes about from one of the most unexpected plot twists I’ve seen in a shoujo *ever*. No, seriously, it was both the highlight of the manga and the most depressing point of it. I was astounded and touched by the thought that went into this and the aftereffects it had on the characters. At the same time, it was the point where the mangaka decided it had strayed too far from the shoujo mold and pounded it back with a disappointing ferocity. The good news is that while the romance was now between two charactrers who matured quite a bit from their previous selves, it still wasn’t unexpected; that silly spoon really was overused for all of this, and it was refreshing when I thought at some point it wouldn’t matter all that much.

But as they try to figure out their feelings for each other in the wake of their loss, Najika faces pressing issues on the homefront, and with more competitions coming up, isn’t up to par. While she doesn’t end up at the competition of her dreams by the end of the series (another thing that was a nice change, having to still work hard for her goals), she still has people supporting her and a path to go down that’s pretty clear of obstacles. I have to say, it was a cherry on top to have it end in a way that made it stick out in my mind from some other series I’ve read.

On a personal note to the series, I really adored some of the recipes that came up in here – the back pages are filled with ones that were featured in the series! I was mightily impressed with the ones they chose to include, and a number were very delicious. A lot of the sentiments expressed about it being lovely and brightening a day echoed how I felt about them. Yum!

Overall, while it’s not the most original shoujo out there, it still managed to surprise me a number of times, and was still fun to read.

Recommended: 10+. There is a death scene, where one boy is hit by a car. you see some blood and his body lying on the ground. One of the girls suffers from an eating disorder (recovers).  A boy sees Najiuka’s panties when she is climbing a tree. Najika’s dress rips, but she’s covered by someone’s coat. There are two or three kisses.

Other Series You Might Enjoy:

Mixed Vegetables (manga)

Bambino (manga)

Yakitatte!! Japan (anime)

Yumeiro Pâtissière (anime)

“The Secret Code” – Codename: Sailor V (manga) – 8/10 Pencils

Mangaka: Naoko Takeuchi

Genre: Mahou Shoujo/ Shoujo/Action/Comedy/Romance

Review Status: Complete (2 Volumes/2 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed by Kodansha in the US.

Art: It’s a little rough around the edges, with Artemis’ design looking stranger than not, but still very lovely and detailed with the character designs.

Summary: Like Sailor Moon, Minako Aino is a normal 13-year-old schoolgirl until a fateful day when a white cat introduces himself to her and tells her she has the power to transform into the hero, Sailor V. Using a magic pen to transform, Sailor V fights the evil agents of the Dark Agency as she strives to protect the earth. (Randomhouse.com)

Review: The prequel to the Sailor Moon series, Codename: Sailor V introduces Sailor Venus, the first Sailor Scout to realize who she was and why she was fighting. Chronologically, this makes sense, and it’s fascinating to see the exploits of one of the Sailor Scouts before she joins up with the others. Having the focus on a different girl gives an interesting perspective to the ‘start’ of the entire fight against the Dark Agency, with a lower level of baddies and some hilarious ways to try and get energy from humans. I was more often than not amused by their antics as they tried (and were foiled) by Sailor V.

There were numerous interesting plans, from getting them to adore idols, to fattening them up and then draining them. Some plans were rather ingenious, if silly, and it was amusing to see how they were carried off and how Sailor V nearly got caught in them herself–she’s almost as much of a selfish ditz as Usagi is! She and Artemis have a great dynamic going. She’s harder on him than Usagi is with Luna, and more often than not Artemis ends up the one feeling down about Minako’s comments and threats. Minako is punished for some of her shenanigans and behaviour, and it’s interesting to see their dynamic change when that happens. They are a bit abrasive with each other, but always know when to set aside the drama and work together.

The brief glimpses and foreshadowing for the rest of the series is pretty neat, and I definitely looked forward to seeing hints of who she would be meeting in any given chapter. She also got a love interest to boot! It’s a shame that some of these things do not come back in the later series, because it would have been a lot of fun to see these play out. Even so, the idea that they have a life outside of the Scouts is nice.

Overall, while there isn’t much meat to the story, and it’s fairly fluff-filled, this is a good intro to the Sailor Moon series.

Recommended: 8+. There’s the typical monsters disintegrating or disappearing into dust, and there’s nothing particularly objectionable about any of the stories.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Sailor Moon (anime or manga)

Wedding Peach (anime)

“A Touch Of Luck” – Crescent Moon (manga) – 7/10 Pencils

“Three things cannot be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” ~Buddha

Mangaka: Haruko Iida

Genre: Action/Comedy/Fantasy/Romance/Shoujo

Review Status: Compete (6 Volume/6 Volumes)

Licensed: This title was formerly licensed by Tokyopop, and currently is unlicensed.

Art: Pretty typical for a shoujo- great detail on the people and clothing, virtually non-existant backgrounds. Thankfully, places that need detail get some and can look pretty nice. It’s nothing special, though.

Summary: Mahiru Shiraishi has an uncanny ability to bring good luck to everyone she touches – except herself. She’s constantly haunted by a recurring nightmare that ushers her to a dreamworld. There, she encounters a tribe of demons – a werewolf, vampire, fox, and a tengu – called the Lunar Race. Destiny calls when they need her help to recover their source of power, the stolen “Teardrops of the Moon.” In this fantasy adventure, Mahiru must battle the rage between the human race and the Lunar Race, whose powers are awakened by the dark side of the moon… (back cover of first volume)

Review: The summary is a very accurate telling of the plot. Mahiru happens to be a descendant of a princess, that seemed to have betrayed the Lunar Race and helped them to their doom, but now they need her powers to try and find a way to save themselves. This has some of the typical shoujo trappings you’d expect from it, like bishies (oh, the bishies!), and a romance sub-plot between the main girl and the guy. The plot? Fairly standard for a mahou shoujo.

At the same time, this builds the story well, making the characters likeable and fun to read about. The plot was kept at a quick pace, going from adventure to adventure, but still leaving a bit of room for character growth. The problem, as per usual with such a large cast in such a short amount of space, is that these characters definitely have unique personalities and quirks (even within shoujo manga, they stand out more than usual!), but aren’t really as developed as I want them to be. They have a lot of interesting background, and you get bits and pieces of what made them who they are. Mahiru is an incredibly likeable, average girl with a quirk. There are little idiosycraties in her personality that make her more of a realistic character than most in shoujo, which I appreciated. Unfortunately, it’s her love interest who falls flat, the stereotypical angry guy that a decent amount of shoujo heroines fall for. His reasons for being angry, while understandable, are standard for the genre and left me less than impressed. Their ‘enemy’, the prince, who is only in the story for about two volumes, manages to be an understandable character in why he persecutes and believes what he does about humans and more believable in his role because of his age and the pressures he is under.

I can only speak highly if the rest of the cast, who are fascinating, funny, and intriguing all in turn. And yes, I do happen to ship the main with them because they’re far more likeable and interesting than the one she does end up with. There’s an issue when the supporting cast is more interesting that the leads!

 Even more fascinating than the characters is the world that they are born into. It’s clear that the mangaka put some thought into the heirarchy and social system of it, and that made the glimpses into its workings tatalizing! I can’t take off points for that, though- most of what was shown was perfectly suitable for the story that it was telling. But it’s the little details that made this manga a lovely gem.

Overall, while the plot and tropes may have been standard, I was still highly impresssed with the details of the world and quirks of the characters, which made this a fun manga to read on a dreary day.;

Recommended: 9+. This does have a dramatic ‘death’ scene, but he’s brought back to life. There is some blood and injury, but nothing that they don’t heal from by the next day. A character dies off-page.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Vampire Game (manga)

Fruits Basket (manga)

Black Bird (manga)

Card Captor Sakura (anime)

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